Playing games all year long

First there was the Year of Art. Then came the Year of Water. Now, Penn begins the Year of Games: Body & Mind.

The 2011 campus-wide theme will explore games of all kinds—virtual, athletic, table, theoretical and historical. The University’s 12 schools and numerous centers will take part in lectures, special events, symposia featuring celebrated scholars, conferences and field trips.

To kick off the Year of Games, Penn Athletics is co-sponsoring a Field Day at the newly opened Penn Park, Saturday, Sept. 17, from 4 to 6 p.m.  PennCard holders are invited to come and enjoy an obstacle course, a home run derby, Twister, tug-of-war and human chess. Participants can also attend sports clinics or have their photos taken with trophies from the University’s collection. Free food, beverages and music will be available, and the festivities will conclude with the Penn vs. Lafayette football game at Franklin Field. 

During New Student Orientation, students explored the theme year by reading and discussing the book “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal. The book examines the role that video and computer games play in people’s lives.  

The far-reaching academic component of the Year of Games is “designed to bring together a wide range of perspectives, across all parts of campus,” explains Provost Vincent Price. “We are pleased to see the variety of interdisciplinary topics and approaches that characterize this year’s courses about games.”

At Wharton, Kevin Werbach, one of several professors studying “gamification,” plans to teach a course titled “Digital Game Design Techniques for Business: Rules, Incentives, Applications.” The course will explore how different aspects of gaming can be applied to business through areas such as marketing, human resources management, productivity enhancement, training, innovation and customer engagement.

Across campus, professors from various departments are already conducting research about games, including game theory, design, sports law, ancient games, decision-making and conflict management.
Howard Stevenson and Duane Thomas at the Graduate School of Education are working on a project to help adolescents manage personal conflicts through interactive basketball games. Also, a team in the School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a vest that allows video game players to physically feel the impact of a simulated gunshot blast as they play, adding a fourth dimension to the world of games.

To learn more about the Year of Games, visit